By all accounts the Lil’ Beethoven show went down a storm, with “Wunderbar” as the encore. Sounds about right!
So today is the final ‘old’ album for Sparks in the series, with Hello Young Lovers, their simply wonderful release from two years back, featured. Their LA show for this was the last time I’ve actually seen them and the image of Russell almost throwing himself frenetically around the stage sticks in the mind — he really isn’t aging, at least not overtly.
Not much more to say that I don’t say below in the draft — there’s also my All Music Guide review for reference — so go to town! Tomorrow though I will post up something from the article that didn’t make the final cut, my take on the three essential Sparks compilations out there. (There is no definitive compilation at all yet — there was, but again, that can wait until tomorrow.)
HELLO YOUNG LOVERS
Lil Beethoven’s statement of intent was probably never intended to signal a permanent musical shift on the part of the band, but without it Hello Young Lovers probably would never have been recorded. In between the albums, the band had not only recruited a new full-time guitarist – Dean Menta, from the Maels’ Plagiarism partners Faith No More – but had played the entirety of Kimono My House back to back with Lil Beethoven at a memorable date in London as part of a festival curated by glam-era Sparks freak Morrissey. It’d be easy enough to say that Hello Young Lovers is a combination of the two albums, but it would also be inaccurate – rather Hello Young Lovers weaves more rock instrumentation into still-predominant classical orchestrations, returns just a bit more to the world of dance music and ultimately creates not only one of Sparks’s best albums but their most truly wide-ranging, covering the entire scope of their career.
The opening track “Dick Around” would have been enough for almost any band’s career to be made – that Sparks would have the talent to carry it off isn’t surprising, but realizing that literally one of their best songs ever has been created nearly forty years after the tentative beginnings of the group is downright jaw-dropping. With a massed chorale vocal from multiple Russells singing “All I do now is dick around” as the introduction, the song moves from sweeping flourishes to loud-as-hell guitar/bass/drum rampages, Russell tackling everything from soft crooning to insanely quick and precise arpeggios matched by equally high-speed performing from Ron, all the while singing lines like “Through with you, through with you, through with you, through with you/Yes I think I got the point and bam there goes my motivation/What to do, what to do, what to do, what to do/All that I could think of is that I’m tendering my resignation.” By the time the whole thing is over it’s become perfectly clear that if Queen had ever swiped anything from Sparks – and they did – then not only had the Maels taken it back, they had completely upped the ante.
And that was just the start – while not a perfect song-for-song album, Hello Young Lovers comes so very close, touching on everything from more straight-up orchestral numbers (“Rock, Rock, Rock”) to sly, finger-snapping grooves (“Perfume,” the lead single and yet another example of the Maels’ knack for pop at its best and most immediate) to a multipart concluding epic, “When I Sit Down to Play the Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral,” at once a Parisian song of romance and a paranoid tale of work jitters. Highlights come fast and furious, but two of their most outrageous numbers ever will serve as examples – “Baby Baby (Can I Invade Your Country?),” which takes the words to the US national anthem and goes from there into uncharted but appropriately martial waters, is about the only post-9/11 song worth a damn, while “Waterproof,” like “Dick Around” a perfect fusion of classical strings and rock epic moves, details the story of a lover’s heart crushed by a heartless bastard – told from the point of view of the bastard, naturally.